#Nokia: build a phone for a loyal customer

Dear Nokia,

I’ve been a loyal customer since the late 90s. I have fond memories of my first phone, a 9000i Communicator. It was the size and weight of a Sky+ remote control. Oh how my friends laughed. But I knew they were wrong. My phone had a keyboard. I could TELNET on it, something they couldn’t even dream of, and there was even a passable browser. It had what at the time felt like a huge, high resolution screen. It was the future in a box, and I loved it.

Over the next few years I had several Communicators, each slicker and faster than the last. It was more than a phone, it was a mobile communications device. Email on the move, imagine that! The menu system was fantasic and the phones never crashed; they were miles better than anything the competition could come up with.

Unfortunately the communicators got expensive and the range was discontinued, and I fell out of love with phones that had moving parts – the hinge went on my 9000i several times and needed repairs. So I had a few years with average simple Nokias – never a problem, but nothing inspiring.

I loved my N80 when I got it, but it seems just weeks later the N95 was released. I had to wait 18 long months before I could get my hands on one. The N96 was just about to launch but I didn’t care, I had to have the N95 (a decision I’m still happy with). I loved that phone for 2 whole years, easily the class of the field with its superb camera, acres of memory for MP3s and videos, tolerable web browser (although I did end up using Opera). Selling it was a sad day in my life.

But by the middle of 2009 it was clear that the N95 didn’t really cut it any more. The iPhone had been out showing the world what a phone could be, and I’d had a work Blackberry for long enough to know how good email and connectivity should be. I have to admit I wasn’t blown away by the options from Nokia, although for a short while my deepest desire was for an N97; contract expiry couldn’t come soon enough.

But then, the news that should have been game-changing: the N900. A true Linux ‘phone’ – no, not a phone, a mini computer. A machine with a decent screen and keyboard. Real multi-tasking. X-terminals! Firefox web browser! This would be the phone to end all phones. I had to have it.

But it didn’t come out in September as promised. Or October… Eventually, mine arrived in December, amid rumours of non-functional microphones, USB chargers/data ports falling out, and poor battery life.

Forunately my hardware was fine, except for the battery life. Barely 6 hours just sitting doing nothing with the screen off – God help you if you wanted to listen to music or use the Wi-Fi. But it was feature-rich, everything worked, and I could fit more stuff on it than I could dream of. It had more space than my aging home PC, and the web browser was almost as fast. I loved it.

For about 2 weeks.

The battery life was irritating but manageable. What is unforgiveable is that the phone is basically stillborn. Barely out of the wrapper, Nokia dropped support for the Maemo operating system, thus killing off applications development interest. What interesting apps there are, require command-line hackery and dangerous kernel patches. It’s linux yes, but it’s like linux from the mid-90s, with all the danger and risk that entailed… Not the modern Ubuntu-class experience you’d expect.

Irritating features of the phone, like only having 5 levels of screen brightness in a display capable of far better, became even more annoying when Nokia refuse to consider improving the functionality or even enable porting of older 3rd party Maemo brightness apps to the N900. It lacks even the most basic features such as ring-tones personalisable per contact, no support for MMS, and has just 2 profiles, one of which is Silent, and you can’t add more. WTF? Maybe that was going to be a feature released later, but Maemo is dead, so we’re all SOL.

What kind of flagship phone has no features, no development, no future? What kind of company tempts its loyal fans into a technological cul-de-sac and then abandons them there?

iPhone killer? Don’t be absurd. Now I’m stuck with this dead end device until Christmas 2011 when my contract expires. I feel cheated, taken advantage of, embarrased to have raved about this phone to my friends.

So Nokia, I challenge you: build me a phone that is worthy of my loyalty. A phone clearly the class of the field like the N95 was when it launched. A phone with the battery life and connectivity of a Blackberry, with the features, applications and support – long term support – of the iPhone. A phone that I can use to browse the web, run popular applications built by professionals and launched simultaneously with RIM/Apple versions, use command-line ssh to get into a server to fix it when I’m on the train, whilst listening to my thousand-CD equivalent MP3 collection, still with space for a season’s worth of Doctor Who downloaded from iPlayer. A phone that acts as a WiFi hub for my other devices without having to patch the kernel or run the battery down in 2 hours.

You have 12 months. Don’t disappoint me. I really don’t want to end such a long term committed relationship, but you’ve let me down really badly this time. Don’t do it again.

    • Ben
    • July 28th, 2010

    I am still loyal to Nokia. True, I did play away for a while, but nothing measured up – poor battery life, overcomplicated interface etc.

    But for the last few months, I have been very happy with the trusty 1100 I inherited. It makes calls. It sends text messages (occasionally). Its battery lasts – on average – 8 to 10 days.

    I don’t need to be able to listen to music, or browse the web. I revel in the fact that when I’m on holiday, I have no access to my email whatsoever (unless I go out of my way to find an internet cafe). I want by phone to be just that – a phone. Not something I need a PhD issued by Steve Jobs himself to operate, along with all the big brother monitoring and soul-binding contracts one of these all-singing, all-dancing bits of kit brings.

    The pace of life is already a joke – people are burning out left right and centre trying to keep up, and every “advance” in the field of communication ultimately ends up benefitting “the machine” more than the individual – I don’t think that work being able to contact me on demand, having what I can do limited by a corporation’s values or being on the receiving end of yet more unwanted advertising is worth what little I would get out of such a device.

    Take your time. Unplug. Slow down and smell the roses. Enjoy life. Use a phone to make calls. For everything else, there’s a computer – and a time and a place.

    (Apologies for if this sounds ranty, Paul – just wanted to ripost somewhat)

      • pauliharman
      • July 28th, 2010

      Funny isn’t it, how two people otherwise so similar can be so different. But that’s what makes a great friendship.

      I don’t really want a phone at all. I hate phones. I hate the arrogance of the device – that whatever I’m doing must be less important than what someone else wants to say to me. If the world wants my attention, then email me, text me, or instant-message me. Leave a note on Facebook for me to read. But, unless it’s life-or-death, or I’ve failed to show up at an agreed place & time, don’t ring me. 🙂

      No, I want a small portable computer. I want instant access to the Internet at any time. I want to carry all my media with me. it’s my diary, my appointments, my to-do list, my library (so I don’t go buying duplicate books by mistake). My notepad, my ideas store. And ideally, it would be the instrument of my creativity too – photos, games, artwork. But not something so heavy it needs its own shoulder bag. Something I can catch up on TV shows I want to watch, and e-books I want to read, but have no time for at home yet could spend those 2 commuting hours a day doing which are otherwise lost time.

      Basically, I think that I Want One Of These:

      Now don’t get me wrong. I find iPhone zombies incredibly annoying. I don’t wander around the place, seeing it only through my camera lens for augmented reality, plugs in my ears to block out the rest of the world. I’m not a teen wasting my life playing Farmville. But I am a technology media professional, and so there’s a certain amount of connectivity expected of me, and I need to ride this wave for my career, or be swept aside. I have a mortgage to worry about, so I’ll cling on for a few years yet. Yes, I do look at my Blackberry a bit too much while on holiday… but experience has proven that it’s better for my mental health to check once a day that things are running smoothly while I’m away, rather than spending my week worrying and arriving back at work at a complete car-crash that will take months to sort out, if it’s not already too late and we’re committed to the wrong direction. Work have not abused my goodwill and I don’t think they will… but I do know that others are not so lucky.

    • Ben
    • July 28th, 2010

    “…yet could spend those 2 commuting hours a day doing which are otherwise lost time.”

    Get off the damn phone and get coding! /rasp

  1. Paul,

    It’s been quite some years since we worked together but I remember your communicator well. I envied it, I wanted it, but I never got one. I settled for its cousin the Netbook (not the pro!) and then dual booted to nix.

    I now use a … N900 and quite simply love it, but it isn’t everything, thats for sure. But when paired with a big bulky battery from http://www.mugen-power-batteries.com/nokia/nokia-n900.html it rocks… until that is I found Android and the Nexus One.

    Now if only someone could throw in a proper keyboard, similar to a Blackberry, yet with the Froyo OS and preferably a Nokia badge on it, I’d be a very very happy bunny indeed.


    • Steven Goacher
    • July 28th, 2010

    Hey Paul,

    You’ve got a lot of good points, but I don’t agree with you in terms of N900 battery life. As far as I’m concerned the N900 lasts a full day of standard usage, and more than that (i.e. up to 2.5 days, if you’re economical with it).

    To give you some examples:

    I have played 4+ hours of avi movie files one after another through the TV out (playing on a TV) and doing so used up about 60% battery life. As far as I am concerned this is very heavy usage, and it coped admirably.

    I have used the N900 to play mp3 music on the bus to and from the office (1 hour each way), and used the phone in a typical fashion throughout the day, and had more than 50% charge left by the time I was ready for bed.

    I have left the N900 connected to wifi (and possible to ssh remote shell into it) and set to download email, and receive skype and google chat. In this condition it lasts more than a day between charges.

    I have played an inefficient flash game on the N900 for probably 5 hours continuously over wifi, without a recharge. Another example of heavy usage.

    If you really want the battery to last, then turn off 3G data and connect to wifi instead (that’s what I do). If you have to have constant data, then set it to 2G (it is a lot more efficient than 3G data, and that is how Blackberry batteries last so well).

    Now, tell me a phone which can manage this:

    1) Run true GPS position (not network triangulation)
    2) Run 3G data connection constantly (with instant msging)
    3) Regular email pulls or pushing
    4) Typical phone usage (a few calls, 1 hour mp3 playing)

    and lasts in excess of one day on a full charge?

      • pauliharman
      • July 29th, 2010

      I envy your battery life! I have location & bluetooth turned off, have an app that claims to have switched WiFi off. I listen to maybe an hour of music, check Facebook for about 10 minutes, and only have data connected when I’m actually using it. The screen is on its dimmest setting and turns off after 10 seconds. And as you can probably tell from the rest of my rant, I hardly call anyone. All that, and the battery barely lasts 8 hours. I’ll try turning 3G off as well and see if I get better performance. It’s tolerable while I’m at work because I can recharge in the office but if I’m out for the day I run out of juice before I can call in to say when I’m home!

      I love the idea of the phone, and some of the features are truly brilliant. The integration between contacts, calendar, and social networking/instant messaging are exceptionally good. But for every brilliant thing there are several irritating things. Why can’t you turn the green LED “fully charged” indicator off when you can turn all the other indicators off? Why does the music player randomly start playing tracks when you hang up the phone?

        • Steven Goacher
        • July 29th, 2010

        Hi Paul,
        Sorry to hear you are not getting good battery performance, despite economising your usage. You might want to investigate further (e.g. using the BatteryGraph app). Also, your battery might be from a bad batch or damaged/degraded. Might be worthwhile picking up a replacement Nokia battery and seeing if there is any difference.

        By the way, I have two N900s (one new on contract, the other secondhand) and both last at least a full day of typical usage on one charge. You’re probably wondering “why two”? Heh, one for testing/tinkering, and the other as my “production” phone (day-to-day). Before you ask, no I don’t carry them both around.

        • pauliharman
        • August 2nd, 2010

        Thanks for your tips. Running on 2G only is a revelation – the battery lasts fine. I’ll start experimenting now with turning other features back on, like the WiFi and/or GPRS data. I can’t help thinking though that I’ve made my phone usable by crippling it. Bet Nokia won’t replace my battery for free :-/
        But as I said in my original rant, while the battery life is annoying, it’s not my main gripe – the reason I’ll abandon Nokia is the lack of “long term service” for their flagship product.

    • Ben
    • January 21st, 2011
      • pauliharman
      • January 21st, 2011

      It just confirms that Nokia is in a right mess with regard to smartphones. Having bungled Maemo, no developer is going to trust Meego – the community has now moved over to iOS and Android. Symbian is just hopelessly out of touch. Nokia’s only hope is to become a hardware-only company – their hardware and its capabilities has alays been second to none – they should abandon Meego and adopt Android for their smartphones.

      I don’t care any more. I got an iPod Touch for Christmas 🙂

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